I frequently hear of these gray bordered cards being referred to as test prints. For some time, I’ve felt that these gray bordered cards are Not test prints. I now own some of these cards, and can do a thorough personal inspection of them. I’ve also tracked down where this rumor came from and interviewed Dave Howell, the source of the original statement which caused this misunderstanding.
Here is a quote from earlier in this thread.
Ralph Herold wrote: It was indeed me who told pickle.69 that a grey border was tested as an alternative to the white border in the earliest days of Magic. I believe I had received this information from Dave Howell, former production manager of WotC and registered member of this forum named snarke. I may even have found the information on his website Magic - A Historical Perspective (a link can be found in the Links section) which is unfortunately offline at the moment. Maybe Dave will comment on this topic himself, otherwise I will contact him.
As mentioned, Dave’s website was offline when Ralph made that statement. Fortunately, Dave’s website is now available again.
Here is a link to Dave’s website.
Specifically, the page titled “The Regathering” is where the reference to gray borders comes from. Here is a link to that page of the website.
Here is a quote of the reference to gray borders from that page.
snarke wrote: Our original plan had been to mark unlimited sets with a gray, not white border. (And I don't mean silver, either.) We found out later this was technically too difficult, and had to settle for the much less esthetically satisfying white.
In this context, “unlimited sets” does not mean the set named Unlimited, it means all sets which are not limited edition. Unlimited, Revised, 4th edition, 5th edition, 6th edition, 7th edition, 8th edition, etc. were all “unlimited sets” as signified by their white border.
There has been some confusion over whether the gray borders were intended for Unlimited or Revised. Here is why.
The game designers started to work on Revised BEFORE Unlimited. There were a few unfinished attempts to create a Revised set before the actual Revised set was released. Dave refers to these unfinished attempts as “Regathering”. Internally, this project was known by many names, MTG2, 2nd edition, Tap Cards, Revised Edition.
Here is a more detailed accounting of the order of events.
After film had been burned for the Beta cards which needed updated and sent to Carta Mundi for printing, work began on a revised and updated set of cards.
snarke wrote: It started out when Richard, Skaff, possibly Jim, and myself were trying to define the difference between mono and poly artifacts. At some point, I realized that the only difference between them was that mono artifacts functioned like land ("Tap to") and poly artifacts worked like enchantments, so we could drop the distinction and just call all of them "Artifacts" by simply requiring tapping or not as a cost when using an artifact. "Since it's functionally a cost, just like a mana cost, we could even dispense with saying "tap to" entirely, and just have some kind of tap symbol instead." I know, it seems terribly obvious now. :) The logical extension was to use the tap symbol for all magic cards that tapped. I also came up with the tipped-T for the symbol. It later had to be replaced with the arrow-version when we started doing other languages because the word for "tap" doesn't always begin with a "T".
The idea was to run a new set of films for the 2nd edition, with a bunch of improved or revised text for the cards. The original plan was another, larger, limited edition with changed card backs. It's called "Magic, the GATHERING" because it was the first edition. The next one was going to be "Magic: something else". Which, of course, would have made the backs different. But PrePrint had a serous bug in it, which was making a mess of the mana symbols. In order to fix it, I actually walked right into their offices and made them fix the problem while I waited. The solution was upgrading from 1.5.1 to 1.6. "You call us and order it and we'll send you the upgrade." "How long?" "About a week." "Not acceptable. This is supposed to have shipped yesterday. Upgrade me right now. I'll wait." In the end, we decided to give up, because we had to get to work on Arabian Nights. However, that meant we would run out of core set cards. So that's why we came up with the idea of "unlimited."
The following link contains information about a locally made test print for this first unfinished attempt at a revised set. Notice that the text has been updated and includes mana symbols in the text boxes. Notice that Mono and Poly artifacts are just called Artifacts, while Continuous Artifacts are still labeled as Continuous. Notice the tap symbols.
The tap symbol was used internally on playtest cards for Arabian Nights & Antiquities, but was not seen publicly until a core set with an updated instruction booklet came out to explain it.
At that time, Arabian Nights was also planned to have a different card back.
mystical_tutor wrote: The work on the release of Unlimited was not much more than a phone call. Arabian Nights was in the planning stages early on (as a different game).
Cathleen Adkison wrote: My recollection is that Unlimited came out as a result of the Alpha and Beta selling out at such a speed that we realized we needed more cards to fill the gap...even though we'd planned to make some game adjustments to the cards that clearly needed some revising. Unlimited filled the space between the original release of the base card game and the release of Revised. Revised is what we'd always planned to have after the initial set but there just wasn't time.
Carol Monahan wrote: "Unlimited" was a stop-gap, but it was directed at the same sales space as "Revised" and all the white-border sets which followed - it was for the game player who just needed cards, rather than the collector. We knew we needed to fill both of those needs.
snarke wrote: Unlimited is simply Beta with white borders. We just called Carta Mundi and said "can you change the border color on the films you have now?" We wanted Unlimited to be gray bordered, but Carta Mundi made it clear that would have required either a 'screen' of little black dots or paying to have a spot color on the press. They could only do solid color modifications with tape. That meant black, white, red, yellow, green, cyan, magenta, or dark blue. The color options would have looked hideous against some of the card colors, so white it was. Carta Mundi did the equivalent of laying strips of white tape between the images on the printing plate films. They created a new set of printing plates, but the plates were made from the same films that they'd used for beta.
Paying for a spot color on the press was not an extra expense that WotC was willing to incur, and creating borders with a screen of little black dots to simulate gray would have required burning more film, which would also have been an extra expense. Using white tape on the Beta films to make new printing plates saved money, not only from spot color fees and film burning / shipping costs, but the white border cards would use less ink during printing. It also saved time because Carta Mundi could get started right away. No gray border test prints were made by Carta Mundi.
I’ll take a moment here to explain what is meant by “screen of little black dots”.
On the first sets of cards that were made (Alpha, Beta, Collector’s Edition, International Collector’s Edition, square corner artist proofs, and Unlimited), the text of the card name, card type, and artist credit was gray.
The printer only uses 4 colors of ink. They are Cyan (blue), Magenta (red), Yellow, and Black. (any additional colors needed are called spot colors and increase the cost of printing) By placing the ink onto the cardstock in small dots and controlling the size and quantity of dots, different colors are simulated. For example, an area that contained small blue dots and small red dots would appear purple to the naked eye, but under magnification you can see the individual colored dots. Similarly, red and yellow would make orange, while yellow and blue would make green. Blue, red, and yellow together make brown. Black dots make an area appear to be darker. There is no white ink. White space is simply unprinted cardstock showing through. Gray is simulated with small black dots on the white cardstock. The shade of gray can be controlled by changing the quantity and size of the black dots.
Here is a scan showing a close up view of the gray text on a Beta card. Notice the “screen of little black dots” that make the text gray.
That image also clearly shows the black border of the card having two different shades of color. The inner portion is mostly black, but also contains dots of blue, red, and yellow. This is called rich black and was on the Alpha and Beta films that WotC sent to Carta Mundi.
snarke wrote: When Photoshop (or maybe PrePrint) converted the image from RGB to CMYK, it did it by doing something like 80% black, with 20% cyan, magenta, and yellow. That would, in theory, create something that looked "black," but would blend much better with other colored areas nearby. However, if there are variations in ink density, the complex black will end up coming out different than a simple 100% black with no other inks.
The outer portion of the black border is plain black. That was not on the film from WotC, and was added by Carta Mundi to fill the blank white space between the cards on the film. This was likely done with black tape on the film before making the printing plates, very similar to how white tape was later used to make the Unlimited cards. Some cards show a white “dot” (actually more of a little triangle) in the corners between the two black borders.
For the next sets of cards that were made (Arabian Nights, Antiquities, and Revised), the text of the card name, card type, and artist credit was not gray, but instead a very similar color of light brown comprised of blue, red, and yellow dots.
On sets after that, the text of the card name, card type, and artist credit was practically white, containing very few colored dots.
After Arabian Nights was sent to Carta Mundi for printing, another attempt was made to revise the core set.
snarke wrote: Our second attempt to release a new core set was after Arabian Nights, so we had a list of which 1st edition cards were going to be replaced with Arabian Nights cards. The list is from a version of the master card-text file with a timestamp of December 3, 1993. I don't remember why we didn't release that one.
The following link contains some sheet printouts from this second attempt.
The reason this version wasn’t released probably has something to do with needing to get to work on Antiquities.
snarke wrote: I vividly remember being all set to leave early for Christmas so I could go skiing before the holidays, and then having to cancel those plans because the designers & editors kept making changes to Antiquities and blew their deadline, and then there was some kind of production problem with *those* films, so I lost about 3 days and had to skip the ski trip.
After Antiquities was sent to Carta Mundi for printing, a third attempt was made to revise the core set.
snarke wrote: This version came from an internal memorandum I circulated.
Note the reference to "MTG2," referring to the first major change to the card set since the initial release, even though this would eventually become the "3rd" edition.
The file timestamp is January 15th, 1994, 2:54 pm
Here is the complete list (I hope!) of what cards that were in
MTG1 have been replaced with expansion cards in MTG2…
This third attempt was seen through to completion and became the set that we all know as Revised.
During that process, a test print was done to show what the other solid color tapes that Carta Mundi had available during Unlimited would look like as card borders.
The following link contains more information on these colored border test prints.
Now that you understand why there was confusion over whether the gray borders were intended for Unlimited or Revised, and that gray border test prints were not made by Carta Mundi, let’s take a closer look at these gray bordered cards.
This is an Unlimited Samite Healer and an Antiquities Ivory Tower printed over each other.
You can tell that the Samite is from Unlimited by the black dots which make the card name appear gray, the beveled edge which Revised does not have, and the lack of a tap symbol.
Notice that the gray border is not comprised of a screen of little black dots like the gray Samite card name. Gray ink was not used as a spot color in the printing of either Unlimited or Antiquities. Notice that the gray border appears mottled. It is not as uniform as a spot color would be.
You can see that the card is miscut and showing a couple more cards at the top. By looking at uncut sheets, I’ve determined that these other cards are an Unlimited Drain Life (black card) and an Antiquities Circle of Protection: Artifacts (white card).
Notice that it is the Antiquities cards which have the gray border. You do not see the gray border printed at the edges of the Unlimited cards.
Antiquities was a black bordered set. Look at the other black portions of the Antiquities card such as the rules text in the text box and the expansion symbol. Notice that they also printed as a lighter shade. The gray borders were clearly caused by a problem with the printing of the Antiquities card.
We all know that Unlimited was printed before Antiquities. The Antiquities cards are printed on top of the Unlimited cards.
snarke wrote: The overprinted card: no, not a gray test. That's just somebody feeding a finished Unlimited sheet through the printing press. Since Unlimited was white border and Antiquites was black border, the black was being printed onto the paper AFTER the clear varnish coat had been applied. Result: the ink was repelled, causing it to bead up, creating that weird grayish mottled look.
When cards are double printed, the first image printed remains most visible because it was able to properly print with the ink in the porous cardstock, while the second image printed is typically lighter due to the ink not being able to contact the cardstock.
These gray bordered double printed cards are most likely scrap sheets which were used to set up the printing presses at Carta Mundi.
Test prints are created with special attention to details and would not be printed on top of an already printed sheet because that would make it very difficult to analyze the test print. (remember the gray border here is part of the Antiquities image that was printed on top of the Unlimited cards) For the same reasons, it’s pretty unlikely that test prints would be miscut. They’re made in small batches and closely monitored.
Some have suggested that these cards are scrap sheets of test prints. The evidence above shows that they are not test prints at all, scrap or otherwise.
To be clear, I don’t think that they are at all devalued by not being test prints. They are really amazing and cool cards which are worth quite a bit of money. I like them very much.